/ Motoring

Should cars intervene on our behalf to keep us safe?


Many cars now come with features that take over in dangerous situations. Are you comfortable with this active safety technology that controls the car for you, or is it something you can live without?

Cars are getting smarter. And regardless of how you feel about it, one of the big goals of the car industry is to move to autonomous vehicles.

In fact, the UK government announced yesterday in Autumn Budget 2017 that it wants to see fully autonomous cars on UK roads by 2021.

But we need to take a step back. We don’t have fully autonomous cars that you can buy today. But we do have a large range of cars with ‘active’ safety features, so-called as they can intervene to improve safety.

But the questions is – how comfortable are you with these features?

Cruise control vs adaptive cruise control

When I’m driving along in my clunky, old Ford C-Max, there is very little in the way of active safety technology. I have cruise control, and I do use it, but it’s basic and simplistic, and not really a safety feature.

But adaptive cruise control is. Widely available on modern cars, it monitors the road in front of you. Should you be travelling faster than the car in front, the car will automatically slow down and maintain a distance between you and the other car. If the road clears, the car will speed up again to your desired speed.

Some systems are so advanced that they can handle crawling city traffic, bringing the car to a complete stop and then pulling off again when the traffic moves.

And we’re seeing additions to this technology. The BMW 5 Series I tested at the start of the year reads speed signs and adjusts the adaptive cruise control for you.

So, what other active safety features are you likely to find on the new cars of today?

Lane-keeping technology

Basic lane-keeping systems simply warn the driver if they let the car stray too close to the edge of their lane without indicating.

More advanced ‘active’ systems will automatically make steering adjustments to keep you within a lane. It’s worth stressing that the systems are meant as driver aids, and not as a form of autonomous driving.

Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB)

Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) will audibly alert the driver to an impending collision. Should no action be taken, the system will automatically perform an emergency stop to either mitigate or completely avoid the impact.

One benefit of having a car with AEB can be that owners enjoy reduced insurance premiums over a comparable model without AEB. Some cars can now also add a steering input to steer you away in order to avoid a collision.

Blind spot warning system

This warning system reduces the likelihood of an accident when changing lanes by alerting drivers to unseen adjacent vehicles. This is normally done via a light in the door mirror, which is often backed up by an audible alert if you still try to change lanes.

Speed-limiting devices

Many cars fitted with cruise control also come with a feature to prevent the car being driven above a pre-set speed. Speed-limiting devices can normally be set to any speed and will gently reduce engine power when it is reached. Many systems will deactivate if the driver floors the accelerator, so they can still react to developing situations on the road.

Tyre-pressure monitoring systems

Having under- or over-inflated tyres can upset the car’s handling and lead to an accident. Tyre-pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) warn of incorrect tyre pressures, helping you maintain them at the correct setting.

Active safety technology – are you for it?

What do you think – do you see these features as essential or useful? Would you pay extra to have them on your car or would you expect it all as standard? Does it worry you that too many automated controls are being added to our cars?

Let us know in the comments below, but also take our quiz so we can see which features you see as essential or not.


I changed to maybe a long-standing safety feature – automatic transmission. It makes the driving task simpler by removing some actions, leaving you to pay more attention to the road. I regularly use speed limiting; it is so easy in a built up area with a quiet engine to stray above the limit. And I favour the others listed. My only concern is how far you take control away from the driver; alertness to road conditions, what happens around you, what other drivers are doing requires concentration and reactions to avoid a problem. Maybe too much reliance on automatic systems will detract from this and give drivers a false sense of security? Driving aids – warnings – rather than driving automation might give better results?


I do not like cruise control. Your feet are not in their logical positions, not doing anything useful and are just as likely to hit the accelerator instead of the brake in an emergency.

We have all had tailgaters up our backsides so technology to keep cars at a safe distance from each other could be considered an essential feature. Same with blind spot warning and tyre-pressure monitoring systems.

Lane-keeping technology is ok as a warning, but not to take control. You might be avoiding an obstacle or pothole.

Speed limiters could be useful, but reacting to speed signs might be problematic as many are defaced or hidden by tree branches.

Too much technology control could create a sort of boredom for the driver where they might not be in full control of the vehicle.

And do we have to worry about car computer hacking?


What you’re partially talking about is adaptive cruise control, Alfa. Nice to use on motorways and especially good for avoiding speed tickets when in built up areas and you’re having to watch both the multiple hazards and the speedo.

One of our Toyotas is fitted with a lot of devices – but the Lidar display which houses many of the sensors sometimes goes into shut down mode on cold days 🙂

Most accidents don’t occur through driver boredom but through driver error, and last year there were 140,086 road traffic accidents in the UK that resulted in personal injury. That works out at almost 12,000 a month, or just under 400 every day. The top five causes:

1. Driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs
2. Tiredness
3. Excessive speed
4. Distraction – mobile ‘phones, changing radio channels.
5. Failure to react to severe weather

Interestingly, fully autonomous cars could cope rather well with all those issues.


Do autonomous cars automatically give you a breath test?

And how do they cope with fog, snow, black ice?

My car is 19 years old so rather lacking in recent modern technology, but it has managed to stay out of trouble so far with me in full control.


Interestingly, there are devices that can be part of your car that do provide breath testing, but the weather is the real reason these developments could be invaluable, since fog won’t provide an impediment to the sensor arrays. Snow could stop them – as it can with any ordinary car, and which is why we have a Toyota 4 x 4 as well, which goes up any snow-clad incline with relative ease – and the black ice question is another reason, really, why the fully autonomous vehicle should be a lot safer, since its in-built accelerometers will detect any slight drifting well before a human driver could react, and correct accordingly.

I’ve always been a technophile, so it’s worth viewing my enthusiasm in that light, and Duncan does make some very sage points about location tracking and even hacking, as cars have been unlocked (but not, as far as I know, actually started) remotely across continental distances.

But the real reasons I await their arrival with great enthusiasm are the freedom they will afford to the disabled in remote areas and the increased safety they should provide for everyone on the roads.


What make this more interesting they make a car that will help you live a longer life by safer driving, We now have AI to help us with robots to put us out of work, we have wireless tech to turn our lights on & off but what the heck is any of that stuff any good if your dying, why does humanity fix what dosnt need fixing instead of fixing the things that should matter.

Patrick Taylor says:
23 November 2017

There is a theory that pranksters will leap in front of cars to cause traffic chaos. A potential problem which no one seems to wish to address. This of course being fairly typical of the system purveyors ignoring the drawbacks in pursuit of the buck.

Whilst it is nice to think a civil society will not have problems where there is unrest or terrorism the dangers of people using it as a form of protest or disruption of main routes should not be discounted.

My other concern is that micro-sleeps are a problem and the more we simplify driving the more likely people will drive when tired. As the technology already exists for detecting drivers drifting off I think perhaps it should be a mandatory system ahead of those that are convenienta nd likely to make people too relaxed.


The theory was put forward by a New Scientist columnist who argued that because the full autonomous car would have to be – for all intents and purposes – almost entirely foolproof in safety terms, once people began to be able to identify them as such they would come to realise that the normal rules don’t apply and would simply walk across roads as and when they pleased.

I think it has some merit, in fact. The irony would be that because the fully autonomous vehicle was far safer than the human-controlled, that characteristic would be exploited by the opportunistic.